Post-9/11 America and the Muslim world: The great divide

Professor emerita Carolyn Fleuhr-Lobban.
At least 45 reported terrorist plots against Americans have been uncovered since 9/11, many of which were prevented because Muslim Americans alerted police, according to U.S. News – The Daily Beast. This patriotism, however, has not kept Muslims safe from hate crimes on American soil.

Carolyn Fleuhr-Lobban, RIC professor emerita of anthropology, said that since 9/11, there has been a surge of Islamophobia in the U.S.

In a lecture on Sept. 7, the first event in the Open Books-Open Minds series, she addressed the question: How far have we come since 9/11?

Though 45 percent of Americans do not look favorably upon the Islamic faith, Fleuhr-Lobban found that most Americans know little about the religion, citing a 2005 Pew Research Center survey.

“What is Islam and who are Muslims?” she asked. “Islam is a religion. Muslims are the faithful. Islam is the second most practiced faith in the world and the fastest growing. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, mostly of African and Asian descent.”

She went on to dispel false notions about Islam, such as the belief that the Islamic religion is more likely than others to encourage violence among its believers. Both Christianity and Islam, she argued, have bred extremists who carry out acts of violence in the name of God or Allah. Both have a long history of violence. And both have used religious rhetoric in political discourse to gain support for the wars they’ve waged upon others.

She said President Bush described his war on terror as a “crusade” (a Christian holy war) and justified his invasion of Iraq as a fight against “evil,” while the word “jihad” (holy war) was used by Osama bin Laden to justify acts of terror. By combining religion and politics in their discourse, both Bush and bin Laden were able to legitimize otherwise unacceptable invasions and acts of violence.

Another false perception is that Muslims are a homogenous group. Moderates are categorized with radical extremists like Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda. Fleuhr-Lobban warned against religious stereotyping; she also warned against profiling — targeting people who are, or are perceived to be, Muslims.

Fleuhr-Lobban said that on March 4, 2011, two elderly Sikh men, wearing long beards and turbans, taking their daily stroll in a suburb of Elk Grove, CA, were mistaken for Muslims and gunned down near their home, one fatally.

Fleuhr-Lobban also cited indirect acts of violence perpetrated by people like Terry Jones, a Christian fundamentalist who advocated burning a thousand Korans on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Fluehr-Lobban said these accounts illustrate how people tend to view those who are different through the lens of fear. “Muslims are predominantly non-White. Their race, ethnicity and religion have been the basis for prejudice,” she said. They face being viewed as a terrorist, the public’s ignorance about Islam and stereotyping.

Fleuhr-Lobban said understanding can be had through education. She encourages student exchange programs. She has also been encouraged by the U.S. military’s mandatory sensitivity training in Muslim culture.

”Despite the belief that all Muslims hate Americans, most Muslims think favorably of America, particularly its freedom of religion and respect for diversity,” she said.

She ended her discussion with this quote from the Koran: “Allah has made you into different nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another.”

Upcoming events in the Open Books-Open Minds series:

• Faculty teaching guides and workshops on ”When the Emperor was Divine,” Sept. 23, 2011, Adams Library.

• A lecture by Tom Schmeling, RIC associate professor of political science, titled ”Korematsu: The Worst Supreme Court Decision Ever?” Sept. 28, 2011, Adams Library.

• A lecture by Julie Otsuka, author of ”When the Emperor was Divine,” Oct. 12, Student Union Ballroom.

• A lecture by Lloyd Matsumoto, RIC professor of biology, titled ”Efforts to Change Victory Day to Peace and Remembrance Day and the Japanese Internment Camp Experience,” Feb. 15, 2012, Adams Library.

• A film screening of ”American Pastime,” moderated by Vincent Bohlinger, RIC assistant professor of English, Feb. 23, 2012, Gaige Hall.

• An art exhibit on March 29, 2012, by Roger Shimomura that combines aspects of pop art and cartoon-based imagery with reminiscences of his family’s internment during World War II.